College goers and their financial crunch Image: Tapasri Saha
It’s hard being 19 and living solely on pocket money. And shitty freelancing gigs. Somehow parents are bizarrely unaware of how expensive college life can be. You need those books and you need that camera, too. Even living on momos is expensive these days (and unhealthy, tbh). So, we spoke to three college goers about their budgeting issues and an expert to help you sort out that mess.
Puja Sinha (MA, English, Calcutta University)
My weekly expenses waver between Rs 250-300 but that’s just the basic costs like transportation and meals from canteen. As for my allowance, I get a monthly stipend of Rs 1500 and, honestly, that’s pretty disappointing. At times I can't help but literally drool over food or books, unable to buy them because of money. I obviously have to prioritise my academic notes or reference books over DVDs or non-academic reading materials.
I know the situation is even worse for students who are staying as paying guests or tenants. Most of them live on a very tight budget and are sometimes unable to afford a private tutor. My best saving hacks include street food and flea market shopping. I mostly download PDFs for academic and research materials as far as practicable.
College and university goers have acquired an unfair reputation of being frivolous with money. Those blaming us clearly don’t realise how hard it is for a student to make the most of this economy in a limited budget. Nobody charges us any less because we are students surviving on limited stipends. I have seen some of my classmates surviving on diluted dal and dry chapatis, especially if they need to save up for something big like a good camera or a hard cover. No matter what anyone says, we struggle a lot.
Deep Roy (ME, Civil Engineering, Jadavpur University)
I didn’t always have a steady flow of pocket money, and my parents would pay me as they liked and it would often get pretty frustrating. Now that I earn a basic stipend, it helps a little, and I don’t solely depend on the money my parents give me.
I don’t think it’s possible to plan your expenses in college; there are just so many things we need to spend on. I am not saying I am a diligent saver. There have been days when I walked home because I spent all my cash on cigarettes. Or, skipped chai for days to save up for some scotch. There have also been instances when I gave some of my pocket money to someone, who needed it more than me. It’s very difficult to actually keep tabs on spending when you’re in college.
My weekly expenses add up to be something around Rs 1000. And it’s a pretty erratic way of spending.
Suchandra Banerjee (Xavier Institute of Communications, Mumbai)
Being on a budget is really not that difficult, at least for me. While at home, we can sometimes ask our parents for things we want. But when you're away from home, we have to limit our expenditure to only what we need. Books do become a requirement and travel costs are also something you keep an eye out for. Being on a budget is only a big challenge if the money received is abysmally and unreasonably little.
Shopping can always move from a mall to the street arcades just like eating out where we may just limit ourselves to simple snacks at a fancy place. Subscribe to Netflix or Amazon Prime if you are a movie buff. Instead of watching a movie outside with friends, stay in and have a night in with them. A monthly subscription costs less than a one-time movie night expense. Go for an ice-cream perhaps, or just the beach (say Bandstand in Mumbai). It's cheaper and actually more fulfilling. Funnily enough, eating healthy actually costs less and you know that is the right thing to do!
Expenses, I've noticed, are a little hard to curb when there's too much loose cash on one's hands and a lack of a weekly budget limit. There are many apps that one can download to review one's expenses and understand what all one can do without.
I'm not earning yet. But had my course permitted it, I would not have been averse to an additional income. However, it totally depends on the intensity of the course to be honest.
Sneha Sharma, DU (BA, 2nd year, English, Delhi University)
My weekly expenses add up to be something around 2500 INR. Delhi is expensive, and even after surviving on crappy canteen food for days, I have often found myself broke. I’ve also spent a grand on a bag, when I really needed that cash for a set of books, for academic reading. I’m not great with my money. But I think, hardly anyone is, in college. We can’t always give in to our cash crunches. I mean, we’re always tight on money, unless we have super generous parents or get a really good freelancing gig. So, I’ve been irresponsible with my money at times, and I realise there are students who can’t really afford to be this erratic with their spending.
Also, for any college goer, it is always difficult to prioritise, because we’re dealing with serious monetary issues for the first time. Especially, if somebody moves away to a different city. In school, you’d just ask your parents for stuff, but I think in college we really aspire to some level of economic independence.
Expert Speak (Financial expert Aveek Dey)
Parents need to help college kids, in opening up SIPs or Systematic Investment Plans, as they have particularly higher returns. Students can regularly invest small amounts, and can take out money whenever they are facing a crunch.
Students can set up this plan, as soon as they enroll in college, or even while they are still in school. Parents can contribute the initial amount, and the college goers can take over, whenever they start earning, or learn saving up. It is also a very helpful saving exercise, and helps one keep a tab on your expenses.
Also, if you’re using a credit card, try to clear the bill regularly, instead of stocking it up. I have seen many students piling up their credit bills, and ignoring the deadlines. When all of it adds up to make for an exorbitant amount, you obviously have to take help from your parents. So, try clearing your credit card debts at a regular interval.
College life can be especially difficult, because most students tend to not ask their parents for money, and try to prove their independence. But talking to your parents about your expenses might just help, mostly because they also need to know that college life isn’t a cakewalk, especially economically. From your gym membership to your books, you practically have to manage all your spending yourself, and while nobody expects you to be a master saver in college, basic financial planning always helps.
(As told to Ujjainee Roy)